Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination
|Author:||Otto Dov Kulka|
A child exposed to experiences of a kind and scale that cannot be assimilated will create their own mythology to make life liveable. Otto Dov Kulka was a child in Auschwitz, and went on to become a prominent historian of the Holocaust. This book is remarkable as it deals specifically with the internal aspects of surviving in an intolerable situation, young Otto’s ‘Metropolis of Death’. One of the tragedies of the Holocaust was the way in which millions of people, each with their own personal narrative, were subsumed by a single narrative (one which led to the gas chambers and crematoria). It is unfortunate that even many of the most sympathetic portrayals and histories tend to reinforce the single narrative, the erasure, and it is interesting to read Kulka express his feelings of alienation when reading or watching accounts of concentration camp experiences. One of Kulka’s achievements in this deeply thoughtful book is to show how an individual can retain that individuality, and even find a sort of beauty and meaning, even under the irresistible weight of a subsuming narrative such as the ‘immutable law of the Great Death’.
Otto Dov Kulka's memoir of a childhood spent in Auschwitz is a literary feat of astounding emotional power, exploring the permanent and indelible marks left by the Holocaust. It is the winner of the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize 2014. As a child, the distinguished historian Otto Dov Kulka was sent first to the ghetto of Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz. As one of the few survivors he has spent much of his life studying Nazism and the Holocaust, but always as a discipline requiring the greatest coldness and objectivity, with his personal story set to one side. But he has remained haunted by specific memories and images, thoughts he has been unable to shake off. It is translated by Ralph Mandel. "The greatest book on Auschwitz since Primo Levi...Kulka has achieved the impossible". (the panel of Judges, Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize).
'A poetic masterpiece unlike anything else written on the subject' -- Simon Schama Telegraph BOOKS OF THE YEAR This is one of the most remarkable testimonies to inhumanity that I know. The deeply moving recollections of Dov Kulka's boyhood years in Auschwitz, interwoven with reflections of elegiac, poetic quality, vividly convey the horror of the death-camp, the trauma of family and friends, and the indelible imprint left on the memory of a young boy who became a distinguished historian of the Holocaust. An extraordinarily important work which needs to be read -- Sir Ian Kershaw Astonishing ... [Landscapes] is, quite simply, extraordinary ... a sort of Modernist precipitate of a historical work, something strange and powerful formed from, but separate to, the solution of history ... I can't see how this book could be bettered -- Robert Eaglestone Times Higher Education Almost unclassifiable ... Nothing else I have read comes close to this profound examination of what the Holocaust means ... [Kulka's] journey strikes me as a quest similar to the attempt to describe the face of God or the structure of the universe. They are too vast and too mysterious. Not that this stops us, or this author, from trying -- Linda Grant New Statesman Primo Levi's testimony, it is often said, is that of a chemist: clear, cool, precise, distant. So with Kulka's work: this is the product of a master historian - ironic, probing, present in the past, able to connect the particular with the cosmic. His memory is in the service of deep historical understanding, rendered in evocative prose that is here eloquently translated from Hebrew -- Thomas Laqueur Guardian Beautiful, startling ... This is a great book: read it. And be grateful - its publication is, in every possible sense, a miracle ... It is the strange and shocking paradox, this child's world constructed in such proximity to death, that makes the book so startling and so beautiful. Every incident is, in effect, seen twice: through the eyes of the historian and the eyes of a boy ... This is not history, it is something else... his words enter the wider sphere of literature -- Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times Kulka's reflections have an unsettling rawness ... yet even in Auschwitz, there are moments of protest, black humour and beauty ... This is a grave, poetic and horrifying account of the Holocaust which does not so much revisit the Auschwitz of the past, but the Auschwitz of Kulka's inner world -- Arifa Akbar Independent This is not so much a book about Auschwitz as one about coming to terms with the shock of survival ... Amid fragmentary, digressive impressions are images of terrible poetic concreteness ... What, ultimately, makes Kulka's book unlike any other first-hand account written about the camps is the authenticity of its vision of an 11-year-old boy... He has done the rest of us - and the world - so great a kindness by writing his book ... offer[ing] the barest glint of sunlight amid a thunderous darkness -- Simon Schama Financial Times A book of moments, hauntings and dreams ... it is unremitting and touches us all [with] a hallucinatory power The Times Otto Dov Kulka's brief, beautiful and unsettling Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death brings together childhood memories of Auschwitz with the reflections of a historian who has spent his life working on the Holocaust: a masterly interrogation of memory and the limitations of historical detachment -- Roy Foster Times Literary Supplement BOOKS OF THE YEAR For the first time, [Kulka] has turned his academic eye inward to explore as unflinchingly as possible the ways in which his childhood encounter with Auschwitz has affected him. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death makes for deeply disturbing but ultimately very rewarding reading, and is unlike any Holocaust memoir I have ever come across ... The book is not a memoir in the conventional sense, but an extraordinary collection of some of the memories, ideas and dreams that make up Kulka's internal landscape -- Keith Lowe Telegraph In this short, powerful memoir, every word tells its story Daily Mail The term memoir barely seems adequate to the introspective, often poetic, sometimes hallucinatory moments that [Landscapes] captures ... such an important contribution to the literature on the Holocaust ... [it] unsettles presuppositions about the camp and its lasting psychological effects so thoroughly that even a reader steeped in the Holocaust canon is likely to experience a sense of defamiliarisation Sydney Review of Books
Otto Dov Kulka was born in Czechoslovakia in 1933. He is Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.